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A Young Australian’s Experience with Deafness

Paul Gordon Jacobs

Publication Year: 2007

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1974, Paul Jacobs lost his mother when he was three months old. When he was five, he lost most of his hearing. These two defining events formed the core of his being. He spent the first two decades of his life “coming to terms with being neither Deaf nor hearing — a neither/nor, an in-between — and a person with a social identity that had yet to be invented.” His memoir, Neither—Nor: A Young Australian’s Experience with Deafness, recounts this journey. Jacobs excelled in sports and the classroom, but he never lost awareness of how he was seen as different, often in cruel or patronizing ways. His father, a child psychologist, headed a long list of supportive people in his life, including his Uncle Brian, his itinerant teacher of the deaf Mrs. Carey, a gifted art teacher Mrs. Klein, who demanded and received from him first-rate work, a notetaker Rita, and Bella, his first girlfriend. Jacobs eventually attended university, where he graduated with honors. He also entered the Deaf world when he starred on the Deaf Australian World Cup cricket team. However, he never learned sign language, and frequently noted the lack of an adult role model for “neither—nors” such as himself. Still emotionally adrift in 1998, Jacobs toured Europe, then volunteered to tutor deaf residents at Court Grange College in Devon, England. There, he discovered a darker reality for some deaf individuals — hearing loss complicated by schizophrenia, Bonnevie-Ullrich Syndrome, and other conditions. After returning to Australia, Jacobs recognized what he had gleaned from his long journey: “Power comes from within, not without. Sure, deafness makes one prone to be stigmatized. Yet having a disability can act as a stimulus for greater personal growth, richer experiences, and more genuine relationships.”

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Series: Deaf Lives Series

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

Acknowledgments are due for those within this book and those without. I’ve recently moved to Melbourne to do my Ph.D at the University of Melbourne and have enjoyed the supervision of acclaimed professionals who have taught me more about the deafness experience than I would have otherwise acquired. These include Professor Field Rickards, Associate Professor ...

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Prologue: She Wasn't Meant to Die

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pp. 1-3

I am the reason my mother died. It was the March 4, 1975. Ann Jacobs was thirty-three. I was three months old. I killed her. Mum was admitted into Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital on Christmas Day 1974. Her health fluctuated but worsened progressively in the following weeks. At the worst stage my father brought me to her sickbed to liven ...

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1. My Life Wasn’t Supposed to Begin This Way

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pp. 4-10

My mother was born in Nottingham, England. She was eight years old when she came to Australia with her parents in 1950 as part of the mass migration from post-war England. The Coupes settled in Warrnambool, a seaside town in western Victoria, with their daughter. Mum excelled as a student, winning many academic prizes, but she desperately wanted to ...

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2. The Wicked Stepmother

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pp. 11-15

Dad found a new partner in 1979. At first blush, Wendy perhaps appeared to be the perfect antidote to my father’s constant grind of raising a toddler and dealing with grief. She was extroverted, frivolous, and an ideal candidate for a short-term relationship. Wendy was the same age as my father—forty. She was struggling to come to terms with the fact that ...

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3. Handicapped?

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pp. 16-26

The farcical marriage ended and Wendy moved out, leaving Dad to sort out the numerous problems at the Strathfieldsaye property, including the selling of animals. While relieved the abusive ex-stepmother was out of my life, I was hurting for my father who was faced with a new set of insecurities and problems, including a divorce, a hefty debt from the hobby ...

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4. The Mentor

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pp. 27-36

With my behavioral problems reaching a peak, help arrived from the Visiting Teacher Services, a branch of the Education Department that provided teachers who specialized in working with children with disabilities. The first visiting teacher couldn’t handle the challenge I posed for her. However, the second, Mrs. Carey, was a godsend. She was a tall woman ...

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5. They Don’t See Me as Deaf

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pp. 37-46

I befriended Jason at fourteen, a straight-A student who was purposeful in everything he did. He tackled every task with great passion and became easily bored with projects that offered no challenges. We had a common interest in sport and ideas. Through Jason, I felt more involved in school life than ever before. He was the pal, guide, and friend who ...

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6. Beyond the Divide

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pp. 47-56

I can hear in my dreams. I can hear the tread of footsteps, whispering in my ear, the wind in the grass, the tinkling of water, and the song of birds; all those things I cannot hear when I am awake. Before I was ten, I dreamed that I met a little blonde girl in a bizarre wilderness, a blue and white hinterland with a night sky, where a pellucid blue light lit the earth. ...

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7. The Invisible Disability

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pp. 57-62

I took a women’s studies elective in my first year at university. Historical and present-day oppression of women seemed similar to that facing people with disabilities. From a very young age, I had empathized with the social challenges that women have fought against, and always admired women who dared to be different in the face of adversity. But the classes ...

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8. The Garden of the Dead

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pp. 63-66

I visited my mother’s plot in the middle of winter in 1993. I went on a whim and didn’t want to bother my father or my uncle or any of my friends. The cemetery was one and a half hours by public transport from the student hostel. On the train, I sat in a seat by the window and warmed my hands ...

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9. A Date at “Macca’s”

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pp. 67-74

I don’t know the title or the artist, but I remember reading Nick’s lips as he sang a popular song in mid-1994. The lyrics went something like “Get a haircut and get a real job.” He would tease me and tell me to get a haircut, a job, some self-esteem, and life experience. It used to annoy me big time. Could I cope with the demands of employment? Questions were ...

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10. The Ganga Man

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pp. 75-77

On the last day of classes in 1994, a classmate offered me a lift home. He was a big man with heavy dreadlocks, who appeared to have Polynesian blood. I accepted his offer because he lived nearby in Sunshine, the suburb next to my hostel. While we were driving, he said, “I’ve got to drop in at my place before I drop you off.” ...

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11. A Call to Adventure

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pp. 78-83

Telephones have never been deaf-friendly. Not long after the incident with the ganga man, I was talking to Dad on the dormitory telephone when he asked, “So how’s uni?” I had pressed the earpiece hard into my hearing aid for so long that my ear had gone numb for lack of blood. We had been talking for the best part of an hour. I told him about the grades ...

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12. The Deaf World

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pp. 84-92

I didn’t know a single person on Boxing Day 1994, when I boarded the Adelaide-bound train at Spencer Street station. But finding my fellow travelers was simply a matter of looking for guys with hearing aids and cricket bags. We decided against air travel to honor the centenary of the first interstate Deaf cricket match in Australia. Like the Victorian Deaf ...

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13. Michaela

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pp. 93-102

Having spent so much time with the Deaf, I craved the opportunity of talking with hearing people. I wanted the fluency and rhythm of listening and talking with someone who was not deaf. It was less effort. Victoria won every game leading up to the finals of the tournament. When the team went out to celebrate our finals placing, I remained behind ...

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14. The Language That Has No Name

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pp. 103-106

The Victorian Deaf Cricket team won the Grand Final a few days later. It was the first time Victoria had won the Australian title in thirty-two years. In the rooms showered in champagne, Peter, the captain, called me over for a private talk. He proved to be a shrewd captain and one of the better cricketers despite him being in his late thirties—an age when most ...

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15. Pookie and Snoogums

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pp. 107-113

The humanities faculty at the student hostel appointed me academic advisor in 1995. I celebrated with the other newly appointed academic advisors in the hostel’s cafeteria, an eatery that lacked the homely character of a family kitchen or the warmth and buzz of a busy restaurant. Originally built to feed large migrant populations, it had retained a clinical ...

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16. Guilt?

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pp. 114-120

During one of my few telephone calls to Bendigo, Dad said that a friend of Mum’s wanted to get in contact with me. I wrote down her details with a flush of adrenalin. “You know who Tanya is, don’t you?” he asked. I recalled my grandparents speaking highly of her. “She was your mother’s childhood friend when they lived in ...

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17. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!

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pp. 121-127

My time with the North Melbourne Cricket Club ended in December 1995. That was also the end of my childhood dream to be a professional cricketer. I had better things on my mind, which was playing for the Australian Deaf Cricket team in the inaugural Deaf World Cup. Australia was host to England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, and ...

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18. A Rip

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pp. 128-134

I enjoyed myself in Bendigo after the World Cup success. I received a write-up in the local paper. Whenever I went out on the town, former cricket or school friends told me they had followed the progress of the Australian Deaf Cricket team on the national cricket telecasts. This short-lived notoriety culminated in a passionate kiss from an absolute ...

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19. An Emotional Bonsai

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pp. 135-141

I hated the thought of attending classes and living in Melbourne without Bella’s companionship. In many ways, being in the Deakin program had been my excuse to be in Melbourne with her. Dad sat me down in our courtyard—the site of our many conversations concerning my future. “So you don’t want to study international trade?”...

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20. A Herald of Change

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pp. 142-145

A herald of change came in the form of my former art teacher, Mrs.Klein, at a supermarket. She sensed my general dissatisfaction with life and said, “I have just the thing for you.” “What?” “A tour of Italy and France. Let’s have a talk.” She pulled out a pen and paper from her purse. “Here’s my phone number. Call me.”...

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21. Whatever Happens

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pp. 146-149

Dad drove me from Bendigo to Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport on the morning of the January 9, 1998. I was feeling the effects of the two bottles of red we shared the night before while looking at the hundreds of slides Mum and Dad took on their 1967 trip to the United States. Many of these featured Mum posing in her suede leather jackets, tartan skirts, ...

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22. Florentine Acquaintances

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pp. 150-155

We left Rome for Florence at eight the next morning. Restless during my first night there, I wanted to do something and enjoy a bit of Florentine culture; however, no one wanted to drink with me or join the Florentine passiagata, so I drank the beer from the hotel fridge and quickly bored of Italian television. Desperate to get some night air after a few irritating ...

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23. Three Candles in St. Mark’s Cathedral

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pp. 156-163

We rode a bus from Florence to Venice on the 22nd of January. When traveling in Australia, I often look into the horizon and mistake clouds for mountains. Traveling over the flat land toward Venice, I mistook the savage peaks of the Dolomites for clouds. Crossing a narrow bridge from mainland Italy into the island of Venice, I saw the strange sight of sailing ...

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24. England

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pp. 164-168

The Eurostar train left Gare du Nord for London’s Waterloo Station on the morning of the January 31, 1998. We reached a blistering 200 kilometers per hour, and the French countryside passed by like a thousand postcards before we disappeared underground, under the English Channel. After twenty minutes of darkness, I saw England for the first time. It ...

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25. Asylum

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pp. 169-172

I’d never known deafness to be so serious a disability before coming to England. I came to Court Grange College with the intention of teaching students how to deal with deafness. Little did I know how much they would teach me. Something wasn’t right. This wasn’t a secondary school for the Deaf...

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26. The Voices of the Damned

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pp. 173-179

I calmed myself down in the common room with a cup of tea and a cigarette. A lot had happened in that room. The cheap lounge chairs were threadbare and revealed their flesh-colored cushions. Wooden furniture had been banished long ago after someone used a broken chair leg as a weapon. The white scars in the plastered walls made it hard to imagine ...

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27. Back to School

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pp. 180-187

Jack, the principal, devised a timetable so that I might get a “feel” for what he wanted me to do. It was my task to help the students with life skills like catching a bus or a train—social skills they may not have mastered yet. Their deafness was the main reason for this. The staff told me numerous stories of students put on a train by their parents only to be ...

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28. You’re Not Here to Kill Me, Are You?

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pp. 188-194

I went on a field trip with some of the students. Near Bristol, we stopped for fuel at a service station. When I exited the station’s toilet, Leonardo appeared from nowhere to thump me in the kidneys. A stab of a knife would be as sharp. I retaliated by punching him back and really wanted to hurt him. He then started screaming and deliberately scattering soup ...

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29. Getting Out of There

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pp. 195-198

Jack, the principal, showed no resistance when I told him I was leaving after only four weeks. I suspected he was used to people finding the going too tough and bailing out. He murmured something about coming to Devon in the summer when there would be more jobs and women in nearby Torquay, but I didn’t want another job or another short-term ...

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30. Life in the Sane World

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pp. 199-204

Marcia helped me with the telephone and also found me a training session with the Etwall Cricket Club and an interview to work as an English tutor. I turned up at the first training session desperate to prove my worth as a player and ended up that night desperate to remain standing after too many free beers from my new teammates, who were delighted to see ...

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31. Home Again

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pp. 205-212

I returned to Australia on June 5, 1998. The flight from London was much less arduous than the flight to Europe. Maybe it was because I was flying with the spin of the earth and not against it. Perhaps it was because my head wasn’t heavy with apprehension. Flying over Australian soil reminded me that I was just hours from seeing my father and friends. Out ...

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32. Afterword

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pp. 213-215

My life wasn’t meant to be this way. Or maybe it was. “I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” sang Nick Cave in his achingly beautiful “Into My Arms.” Nor do I. “Jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam,” Kurt Cobain once crooned. Each of us is made of star dust, but sun rays are never made like me. The ancient Greeks believed three sisters were responsible ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781563683855
E-ISBN-10: 1563683857
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563683503
Print-ISBN-10: 1563683504

Page Count: 222
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Deaf Lives Series